How Ubuntu LTS Support Works


  • Service Provider

    This comes up pretty often and I feel that it needs to be addressed thoroughly. Ubuntu has a complex release schedule involving a new, supported release every six months, one in April and another in October. Releases are labelled as such: 12.04, 13.10, etc. The first number is the year, the second number is the month. This makes it simple to know what current is and in what order they go, it becomes numerical.

    Every fourth release is labelled LTS, which is the industry term for "Long Term Support". LTS releases have been 12.04, 14.04 and this month's 16.04.

    It is important to understand what exactly this means to Ubuntu and Canonical, however. Many of us are used to the LTS models of Microsoft, Red Hat, Oracle, IBM and Suse which all do similar release schedules but treat LTS very differently. When Microsoft or Red Hat, for example, release an OS it is always LTS. Microsoft has no non-LTS offering and Red Hat keeps their non-LTS releases under the Fedora badge so that there is no confusion. Every RHEL release is supported for a very long time and supported completely. The same for Windows Servers. Their support schedule says that they will fully support their products for the life of the support lifespan. Never will a bug be found and instead of fixing it will the vendor say "sorry, we are not bug fixing this old version, you need to upgrade." That's the industry expectation of LTS - that it is supported "as a current release" until it hits EOL.

    Ubuntu LTS is not like this. What LTS means in the Ubuntu world is that security patches and updates will likely continue to be released until the product hits EOL but bug fixes are not promised during this time, only for the six months during which the LTS release is also the current release. For "full" support, the way that Windows, RHEL, Solaris, Suse or AIX are supported you must remain on the current Ubuntu release which means updating every six months. There is nothing wrong with this model, it is simply a different approach, but it is absolutely critical to understanding and embracing when you choose the Ubuntu ecosystem - you don't stay with LTS releases for better support, you are foregoing support and putting yourself at risk using LTS releases. By the terminology of the industry, Ubuntu LTS is "unsupported" once six months has passed.

    Ubuntu makes no claims to LTS being a "superior" support to their current releases or anything of the sort, but they do use the LTS banner inappropriately. It is misleading to call it LTS when they stop providing the same level of support, or what is generally classified as support by any other OS, after six months. There is "some level of support" to be sure, so it is not completely wrong, but it leads many shops and vendors to do somewhat reckless things.

    If your goal is to have the most stable, most supported Ubuntu system, LTS is not an option for you. LTS is exclusively for shops that are willing to forego some amount of support and stability in exchange for not updating as often - a generally very bad tradeoff. Updates are important for many reasons and in a system like Ubuntu which is based on linear updates every six months, skipping three out of four just increases the risks that the next update will break something. Smaller, more regular updates are generally safer and more reliable.

    Unfortunately many vendors have started only release for Ubuntu LTS releases (this is far less effort for them to test against only 25% of Ubuntu releases.) This causes many shops that want to use Ubuntu to be stuck staying back on old versions for some applications. For most of us, this simply means that those products are unsupported on Ubuntu as the LTS system does not meet the standard definition of "supported". If bug fixes are not covered in the support, it's not really a supported OS to most companies. This puts the application vendors and OS vendor at odds as the application vendors might only support a version that of the OS that does not work and the OS vendor might only support a version that the application is not supported on - a fundamentally unsupported scenario.

    LTS releases are not a path to better support and were never intended to be. There has been a strange industry move from end users that have not taken the time to look into what these terms mean and how they are used here to get a sense that the LTS releases are the "real" ones and that the in-between current releases are just unsupported tests or something, but nothing could be further from reality. That is, indeed, how RHEL works with Fedora releases and Suse Leap works with Suse Tumbleweed releases but has no applicability here. The only truly supported option is Ubuntu current. LTS is nothing more than marketing to sell to managers who have not researched how to embrace the Ubuntu model.

    This is first hand knowledge from working with a company that had Ubuntu support and had attempted to use LTS releases for exactly their intended purpose and upon discovering significant stability issues and race conditions in the platform were told that stability and bug fixes were not going to be provided for the most current LTS release and for full support keeping up to date on the most recent releases was required. This is the response from Canonical support as to how they treat the LTS releases and they directly said that for full support you must not remain back on LTS once new current releases have come out.


  • Service Provider

    There are big benefits to the Ubuntu model, their regular, granular updates make it far easier for shops to do incremental updates and not have huge, jarring, disruptive updates in the way that moving from RHEL 5 to RHEL 6 to RHEL 7 is. But it requires more updates more often. It is a tradeoff but one that makes a lot of sense, especially in the world of smaller, more discrete VMs. The RHEL and Windows support model was one born of the old, physical world. The Ubuntu model was born in the post-ubiquitous virtualization world.



  • @scottalanmiller said:

    releases are the "real" ones and that the in-between current releases are just unsupported tests or something, but nothing

    I'm curious how the Windows 10 Support Model will play out. They now have a LTS branch as well that is seeming different from the past.

    i.e. The July 2015 release was the LTS for WIndows 10, and 1511 is the current one, but not LTS.

    How did MS tread service packs in the past? From what I read, it appeared that when a SP was released timing would kinda start over on how long it was support, and a general new end of life of the RTM/last SP would be announced.


  • Service Provider

    @Dashrender said:

    @scottalanmiller said:

    releases are the "real" ones and that the in-between current releases are just unsupported tests or something, but nothing

    I'm curious how the Windows 10 Support Model will play out. They now have a LTS branch as well that is seeming different from the past.

    i.e. The July 2015 release was the LTS for WIndows 10, and 1511 is the current one, but not LTS.

    How did MS tread service packs in the past? From what I read, it appeared that when a SP was released timing would kinda start over on how long it was support, and a general new end of life of the RTM/last SP would be announced.

    SPs were just part of patching, not new releases. They are part of the support system - stability, bug and security fixes to the LTS OS.


  • Service Provider

    What Windows 10 means for support... I have no idea. You'll notice that I only mentioned Windows Servers in my post due to the somewhat complicated world of the Windows desktop.



  • @scottalanmiller said:

    What Windows 10 means for support... I have no idea. You'll notice that I only mentioned Windows Servers in my post due to the somewhat complicated world of the Windows desktop.

    Isn't Microsoft going to bring that same style of update patterns to Server 2016 as well?


  • Service Provider

    @dafyre said:

    @scottalanmiller said:

    What Windows 10 means for support... I have no idea. You'll notice that I only mentioned Windows Servers in my post due to the somewhat complicated world of the Windows desktop.

    Isn't Microsoft going to bring that same style of update patterns to Server 2016 as well?

    Very possible, but they haven't yet.


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